Ask the right questions to hire immigrant IT help

Hiring managers, including those in IT, are having difficulty recruiting internationally-trained employees, according to a new talent development program at Ryerson University.

The Talent Development for Organizational Effectiveness (TDOE) program, recently launched by The Chang School at Ryerson, aims to help employers tap into the growing pool of internationally educated immigrants. TDOE said that while organizations are starting to see the advantages of hiring new Canadians – whether to fill their talent roster or gain valuable international perspectives – many employers are struggling to follow through on these plans.

Navpreet Singh, program manager at the TDOE, said that most companies are having problems in sourcing, screening and interviewing immigrant candidates. The solution, she said, is for hiring managers to focus on the actual requirements of the job rather than the candidate’s accent or language proficiency.

“Often employers will harp on language proficiency even though it may actually surpass the requirements needed to successfully perform the job,” Singh said.

In the case of many IT jobs, she said, a hiring manager would be better served to put more emphasis on technical skills rather than soft skills. Singh said that far too many good, or even overqualified candidates, get bypassed on the basis of a strong accent or other surface level factors. The most critical mistake for many companies, according to Singh, comes during the interview process, where the cultural differences make many questions difficult to answer for some new Canadians. For instance, immigrant candidates coming from a very hierarchical structure abroad would have difficult answering an interview question that might require them to challenge authority.

“So if you ask them to describe a situation where they’ve had a conflict with their boss and resolved the situation, the candidate would experience tremendous difficulty in answering,” Singh said. “A hiring manager could overcome this challenge by allowing an interviewee to provide an example outside of work, where they had to overcome an obstacle in their personal life that demonstrated problem solving or resolution conflict skills.”

Singh said that too much emphasis gets placed on workplace examples and that employers need to understand that these skills can be honed outside the office. In some cases, a hiring manager’s failure to acknowledge cultural barriers can prevent prospective immigrant employees from even getting to the interview stage.

“Many employees tell us that they get quirky looking resumes that list things like religious affiliation or martial status,” Singh said. “While there is really no way around this, we advise hiring managers to try and look past these details to begin with and instead try to probe deeper to see whether the candidate has the competencies or education to be the right fit in the job.”

Singh said other differences Canadians employers might want to keep in mind is that immigrants can sometimes originate from a culture where boasting about individual success are frowned upon. In fact, she said, many candidates will place too much emphasis on their weaknesses if questioned during an interview.

“The best way to deal with this is to just continue probing further and allow for individuals to go outside of their work experience to provide examples of their strengths,” Singh said.

But for many companies, this is easier said than done, according to one IT staffing consultancy.

“If there’s one thing that has characterized IT roles over the last few years it has been the changing role of IT within the business,” Terry Power, president at Toronto-based Sapphire Technologies Canada, said. “It’s taken on much more of a front line importance and as a result, our customers are looking for more qualifications that go beyond the specific IT skills and reach out into general business and communication skills.”

Power said that despite these factors, getting internationally trained employees into your company will often provide them with the opportunity to gain experience quickly as well as help them address the language and communication barriers they may have. Ultimately, he said, the pros usually outweigh the cons.

“Plus, as the pool for qualified IT professionals continue to see more and more pressure for workers, companies will have to be a little more open to looking beyond communication skills as their top priority,” Power said. “They may look at candidates that don’t have that skill fully developed yet, but as an organization will be able to help them grow into it over a period of time.”

And for companies that are having trouble even reaching the immigrant talent pool, Singh advised employers to broaden their advertising channels beyond Monster or Workopolis and into ethnic newspapers and radio.

“A lot of companies are missing out on some great talent out there,” Singh said.

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